Detroit Lions Who've Turned Heads in Offseason Workouts
The Detroit Lions have had two weeks of offseason workouts, plus a week of rookie camp. While media access has been light, there is still tangible buzz about the performances of a few Lions.
With a new coaching staff and an influx of young talent over the past couple of seasons, there is a real opportunity for players to strut their stuff and impress. The key for them is to build upon these early positive impressions as the offseason progresses to training camp and then the preseason.
Here are five Lions who have roared this offseason.
Defensive tackle Nick Fairley often makes headlines for all of the wrong reasons. Be it arrests, rapidly gaining weight or ridiculously undisciplined play on the field, Fairley is often an easy target.
That's why it's so nice to write about Fairley in a positive light.
It would have been very easy for him to use the fact the Lions refused to pick up his fifth-year option to respond negatively. Instead, Fairley is doing all of the right things.
He has not sulked. He has not been immature. He has simply realized his career fate is in his hands, and he is doing something about it.
Fairley missed the first couple of days of OTAs recovering from having his adenoids removed to help relieve sleep apnea. When he took the field, he reported noticeably slimmer than he was toward the end of last season.
He does indeed have much to prove. Fortunately for Fairley, he appears to be off to a great start. As Pasche notes in her story linked in the above tweet, the inconsistent defensive tackle has come to see the team's "prove it" stance as a challenge he's enthusiastically willing to accept.
Second-year running back Theo Riddick is getting quite a bit of buzz for a player who gained 45 total yards as a rookie.
My favorite sleeper for the upcoming season: DET RB Theo Riddick— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) June 2, 2014
That came on the heels of Joe Lombardi praising Riddick after practice, as reported by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Per Birkett, Lombardi's impression is that Riddick reminds him of starting running back Reggie Bush. That's high praise, though it's easy to see the stylistic similarities.
The Notre Dame product has great quickness and excellent hands out of the backfield, but he can also sift his way through traffic as a runner.
It's worth noting that Lombardi is importing the offense from the New Orleans Saints, who have had at least four running backs get at least 40 touches in each of the last two seasons. Riddick is gunning for more looks as the third back, behind Bush and the currently sidelined Joique Bell.
He'll also remain a fixture on special teams, where he did most of his damage as a rookie. He fared well on coverage units, bagging seven tackles, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
How many touches Riddick gets remains a question, but early indications are that he will merit at least a handful per game.
Second-year defensive end Devin Taylor is expected to take a leap from his rookie season. With former starter Willie Young departed via free agency, the Lions are counting on Taylor to step up.
Early views from workouts indicate the tall South Carolina product is ready to make the leap.
His early work in camp, playing at both end and tackle along the defensive front, has spawned several positive articles from various Lions scribes. Kyle Meinke's piece for MLive says a lot with its title, "Devin Taylor could be key to Detroit Lions' varied defensive fronts."
Positional versatility is a key facet of new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's attacking front. Having an athlete like Taylor, who is nearly 6'8" and blessed with great initial burst and is a handful to block, allows Austin to morph his lineup on the field without having to use prepackaged substitutions.
As Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official website notes:
The Lions are drilling his hand work every day this spring in an effort to extend those arms and use that reach to his advantage. Too many times last year Taylor was engaging blockers too close to his body, negating his reach and ultimately his leverage.
This aspect of teaching technique and acknowledging deficiencies is a breath of fresh air in Detroit. Taylor could be a major beneficiary.
There is an intense battle shaping up for the final wide receiver spots on the 53-man roster in Detroit. So it is certainly a good sign when the coordinator singles out a player for praise after an OTA session.
That's exactly what happened for Kevin Ogletree when Joe Lombardi talked him up recently. As reported by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, the newly re-signed wideout took full advantage of first-team reps when Golden Tate was excused for a day.
Ogletree has shown he can make a legit NFL impact...once. While playing for the Dallas Cowboys, Ogletree lit up the New York Giants in the 2012 season opener. He hauled in eight catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
Alas, the former Virginia Cavalier has not done a lot else in his five years in the NFL. He has just 999 career receiving yards, including 199 on 13 receptions for the Lions a year ago.
Five of those catches came in the finale against Minnesota, where Ogletree filled in as a starter and wound up playing every offensive snap. He continues to build off of that strong finish in his quest to establish himself as a more stable, secure NFL player.
Part of Ebron's standing out comes from his outsized personality. He's verbose and does not lack either confidence or charm.
Part of it is his lofty draft status. Much is expected from the 10th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Then there's the faux-hawk hairstyle and the copious tattoos that line his forearms. Oh yeah, he spent a weekend hanging with old friend Johnny Manziel, spawning many photos plastered all over social media.
In short, Eric Ebron is a man who attracts attention naturally.
One person whose attention he piqued is former Lions tight end Charlie Sanders, a Hall of Famer who remains a visible team presence today. Sanders expects big things from the young protege:
Of course, Ebron has had some stumbles. As Kyle Meinke of MLive noted after one of the few practice sessions open to the media:
Today it was Eric Ebron who struggled to hang onto the football, dropping at least one during individual drills with position coach Ron Prince, then later dropping an easy 5-yarder from Dan Orlovsky during team drills. It's too early to be concerned about drops, though it's worth noting that Ebron struggled with them throughout his time at North Carolina.
He's also the last remaining unsigned draft pick, though as I wrote recently, it's not his fault.
Expect Ebron's progress and how the Lions incorporate his hybrid package of skills into the offense to continue to be a major storyline throughout the offseason.